AT one stage of the second quarter in Páirc Uí Rinn, Luke Connolly drifted a lovely pass into Paddy Gumley behind the Dr Crokes’ defence.
Through the space clogged up to stop that immediate chance, Nemo recycled and half a minute later Gumley returned the favour with a gorgeous pass over the top to put Connolly in one-v-one. Connolly’s first-time volley didn’t bring a goal but the general excellence and quality was pretty indicative of Nemo’s afternoon here.
It was a performance that felt like a statement where they did what they wanted for most of the game against the All-Ireland champions and announced themselves right back on the All-Ireland stage again after a few years away from the elite.
Nemo were the team in control here with a massively impressive performance, full of intent and quality and a mentality that suggested that they weren’t really going to be bothered by Crokes’ recent history at this level. If Cork teams have had some inferiority issues in recent times, Nemo’s football here had the spark and confidence more in keeping with their traditions.
Their inefficiency in front of goal might have been out of character as it’s hardly overstating to say they could have had four goals in the first half – but they repeatedly ripped apart a defence that came into this with a rep for being awfully miserly in giving up chances. Nemo ran hard from all over the pitch, moved the ball slickly, trusted their ball control in tight spots and just had far more composure in the creation of decent chances.
Luke Connolly was again a difference if not the only difference, hitting ten points overall including some beauties from play, exuding menace with every possession and just taking another step towards potential breakout star on a national level. Gumley hardly gave a ball away and kicked three lovely scores. Paul Kerrigan ran great lines with the usual speed, opened spaces for a load of scores and in that vital spell after Crokes brought the game to two points in the second half, he got fouled for two frees and burst through for a point himself.
But it was more Nemo’s ability to win one-v-one battles and trust themselves all over the field that stood out. In the opening minutes, a Crokes kick-out to the wings had Johny Buckley under fierce pressure and Nemo barely left the intensity slide after that. Aidan O’Reilly made a great steal off his man in the first half that led to a Connolly point. Soon afterwards O’Reilly tore forward, broke a tackle to open space down the centre and hooked a handy point for himself.
Later in the half Barry O’Driscoll took his man on down the left wing and got hauled down. In the first move of the second half, Gumley stood his marker up, took him on and beat him with a trick and kicked a classy point. Over and over Nemo got runners down the middle by breaking tackles and created an extra man to run directly at Crokes’ defence and it was remarkable to see Pat O’Shea’s team so open and vulnerable to sheer pace and running.
There was serious quality when necessary too. Nemo’s seventh point was a lovely mix of angles and runs and making space, a kicked pass from Barry O’Driscoll to find Connolly in the half-forward line, a one-two and then a pop from O’Driscoll to Gumley to curl a great kick over. Nemo were composed coming out from defence and always seemed to be able to move the ball into a space where they had a free man.
If there’s a tendency at times for them to look for Tomás Ó Sé all the time when moving the ball out of defence, here others stepped up in his absence. When Crokes looked like making a game of it in the third quarter, Luke Connolly won a turnover back in his left corner-back position and Nemo had the head to switch play and work the ball up the field. By the time Crokes had meaningful possession again, Nemo had worked three scores and the game was dead.
It was on those days it all came together and it felt like a coming of age for this Nemo group. The defence may not have the obvious names of the forwards but after coughing up unnecessarily hefty (and slightly misleading) totals in both county finals they were really excellent here, restricting Colm Cooper and Kieran O’Leary to little or no influence and controlling the spaces in front of their goal so effectively that Crokes were never allowed get into any real rhythm and never really looked like opening them up.
Kevin Fulignati mopped up a pile of ball and both Cronins drove with conviction with and without the ball. There was attitude too, a nice feistiness where they always seemed to be the team dictating the terms of the collisions. Nemo were very good in spells to win Cork but if the county left any doubts about the quality of the opposition then we can forget those now.
They’ll feel they needed this one in Nemo to be taken seriously again and their overall display and this result has them very much back in the conversation.
They’ll need to be better again for Slaughtneil but they’ll enjoy the holidays and the challenge now.